Washington Pushes Turkey Toward "The Red Line"
- MERIP Press Information Note 103
Washington Pushes Turkey Toward "The Red Line"
August 6, 2002
(Ertugrul Kurkcu is coordinator of the Independent Communication Network in
Istanbul and a freelance journalist.)
Top Pentagon brass may have doubts about the feasibility of the circulating
war plans for Iraq, but George W. Bush's envoys have convinced Turkish
decision-makers that a US military operation to overthrow Saddam Hussein's
regime is inevitable. An official document recently leaked from Turkish
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit's office unveils a shift in Ankara's feelings
toward the expected operation: having failed to forestall it, Turkey will
try to make the best of it. Code-named "B.020" and signed by Ecevit, the
document reads in part: "There is no doubt that the emergence on our
southeastern borders of a democratic Iraq with good relations with the West
is extremely valuable for our strategic interests." In a televised interview
last week, a visibly worried Ecevit admitted that "US officials have already
expressed their determination for an attack against Iraq. They don't simply
imply this, but openly express it. We are preparing both politically and
A particular clause of B.020 known in military circles as "The Red Line"
states Ankara's major concern about the prospect of the replacement of the
Ba'thist regime in Baghdad. If the Bush administration is determined to go
to war, the Turkish government has underlined its determination to prevent,
at any price, Kurdish independence in a post-Saddam Iraq, or the emergence
of any Kurdish entity with recognized standing in the international
community. Even Kurdish autonomy within a federated Iraq, Turkey fears, may
stir up trouble on its southeastern border if the central government in
Baghdad does not tightly control the rival factions which presently control
two Kurdish enclaves in northern Iraq. "Ethnic minorities in Iraq should be
prevented from establishing separate administrations," states B.020.
"Declarations in this direction will be a cause for intervention on our
part." The document continues: "Relations [between Baghdad and the Kurdish
parties] should be based on a broader framework ensuring that the [larger
Kurdish] region remains politically and economically dependent on Turkey."
Meanwhile, on August 2 the Turkish parliament rushed to pass a raft of
legislation designed to bring Turkish law into conformity with the European
Union's "Copenhagen Criteria" -- a precondition to start negotiations for
Turkey's accession to EU membership. Over the vocal opposition of the
right-wing nationalist party which holds the largest number of seats in
Parliament, pro-EU lawmakers abolished capital punishment, automatically
suspending the death sentence upon Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of
the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), and granted the Kurdish minority the right
to educate children and broadcast in the Kurdish tongue. With the
nationalists likely to make these new laws the central issue in early
parliamentary elections scheduled for November 3, there will seemingly be
little public pressure on Ankara not to follow Washington's lead on
intervention in Iraq.
ASSURANCES FROM WOLFOWITZ
Ecevit and the Turkish government -- always highly dependent on the US for
military aid and economic and political support -- have long made no secret
of their opposition to military action against the Iraqi regime. But a
severe economic crisis and the multiple ministerial defections that forced
the early elections have left the Turkish government with little margin to
maneuver before US demands. For the time being, Ecevit will have to be
satisfied with US assurances that "events in Iraq won't have a negative
impact on [Turkey's] unity." During his visit to Ankara and Istanbul in
mid-July, leading hawk Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said that "a
separate Kurdish state in the north would be destabilizing to Turkey and
would be unacceptable to the United States," though the US position on
autonomy -- what Iraqi Kurds say they want -- is not clear. Wolfowitz did
not forget to mention the plight of the Turcoman minority in Iraq, a point
echoed in the leaked B.020 document: "Preservation of the rights of
Turcomans as equal citizens of Iraq is among our basic political aims and
priorities." Mostly living in and around the oil-rich Kirkuk and Mosul areas
in northern Iraq, Turcomans comprise around five percent of Iraq's
There are further signs that Turkey believes the die is cast for Iraq. In
late July, US military officials reportedly visited Turkey to discuss
details of building a "defense shield" over Turkish airspace against Iraqi
Scud missiles. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yusuf Buluc denied that
discussions were held with US military officials. But "there have been talks
with NATO military officials," he confirmed. On August 3, Turkey named Gen.
Hilmi Ozkok, who oversaw the dispatch of Turkish peacekeepers to Afghanistan
after the fall of the Taliban and has been a NATO commander, as the new
chief of staff for NATO's second-largest army. The commander of the
gendarmes in southeastern Turkey leapfrogged a superior, in a break with
army tradition, to assume the army's high command. On August 2, the Turkish
National Security Council reportedly amended the National Security Policy
Document, placing "the threat from the east" at the top of Ankara's "threat
Meanwhile, Speaker of Parliament Omer Izgi has also said that "an American
operation against Iraq is assured." He told journalists that if the
operation is ordered before November 3, the Turkish elections will be
postponed. Despite heavy media coverage of these developments, there is
little debate over the government's inclinations vis-a-vis Iraq.
AMBITIONS TO ACCESSION
There is good reason to believe that the shift in Ankara's position toward
Iraq is related to its need for US backing to bypass considerable opposition
among EU members for including Turkey in the prospective EU enlargement.
With the new legislative amendments in hand, Ankara expects to receive a
negotiations schedule -- a timeline for Turkey's inclusion in the EU -- from
the Copenhagen summit in December. EU Enlargement Affairs Commissar Gunter
Verheugen welcomed the August 2 laws as "significant steps" toward answering
the EU's concerns about human rights and the rights of minorities in Turkey.
But Verheugen has previously warned that the EU "will not grant Turkey a
schedule unless all conditions for accession are met by Ankara," and the EU
will be watching the implementation of Kurdish rights measures and curbs on
torture and other human rights abuses in police stations.
Elmar Broek, chair of the European Parliament's Foreign Relations Commitee,
said after the August 2 reforms that "Turkey is still far from meeting the
Copenhagen political criteria." Off the record, some EU officials have
criticized Turkish politicians for "arousing unrealistic expectations among
the Turkish public" about EU accession.
Tensions between the EU and Turkey are likely to rise this autumn, when the
EU will discuss the candidacy of Cyprus for accession. The Mediterranean
island 100 miles south of Turkey's coast has been divided into a Turkish
north and a Greek south since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded in response
to a coup against the bicommunal government. In defiance of UN resolutions,
Turkey still controls 36 percent of Cypriot territory. The self-proclaimed
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus remains unrecognized by every country in
the world, except Turkey.
The EU has decided to start negotiations for the accession of the Cyprus
Republic, as the sole legitimate government of the entire island, by 2004.
Turkey strongly opposes the prospect, threatening to annex the north of the
island should Cyprus gain EU membership before Turkey does. The new foreign
minister in Ecevit's government is considered a hardliner on the question of
Cyprus, though his tenure is likely to be short.
Still stricken with the aftershocks of the February 2001 financial crash,
Turkish economic planners are desperately seeking an influx of foreign
capital to stimulate recovery. The Turkish business community, like the
centrist politicians who pushed the reform package through Parliament, is
convinced that the way out of stagnation is economic integration with the EU
and implementation of constitutional amendments in that direction.
Because war in Iraq would further disrupt the economy, Turkey is likely to
demand a high price for standing on the winning side as it did during the
Gulf war of 1990-1991, when losses to its economy were estimated at $40-80
billion. Mark Parris, former ambassador to Turkey, told the July 31 Senate
Foreign Relations Committee session on Iraq that Turkey would seek full
relief of its foreign debt, additional US aid and continued support in the
councils of the International Monetary Fund, which gave Turkey an
unprecedented $16 billion bailout package in 2001. "Ankara will not have the
luxury of sitting arms folded should Washington go after Saddam," said
Parris. "Ankara, for her own interests, will need to take part in the
planning and implementation of US plans."
But lessened resistance to a prospective US attack on Iraq may not translate
into actual military cooperation, which Turkish analysts warn will require a
special parliamentary authorization. "Without such a decision the government
will be faced with legal difficulties," says international relations expert
Turgut Tarhanli of Istanbul's Bilgi University. "Turkey can not base such
cooperation on NATO membership responsibilities, for NATO binds member
countries in a defensive alliance against aggression. There is no NATO
decision on this matter either."
A parliamentary mandate for war on Iraq would be still more complicated if
the parliament's ideological complexion changes radically after the upcoming
elections. Polls currently show the moderate Islamist Justice and
Development Party, headed by former Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at
the head of the pack. In the past, Islamist parties have been outspokenly
opposed to Turkey's facilitation of US policy toward Iraq, including the
no-fly zones policed by US and UK fighters from the Incirlik air base.
Other civil society figures, however, accept the government's opinion that
the Iraqi regime is destined for collapse under US pressure, and call upon
Ankara to advance its own initiative for regional peace and security before
a war starts. "The scenarios concerning Iraq's future have until now been
shaped in London and Washington, and that is wrong," says retired diplomat
Ozdem Sanberk, director of the liberal think tank TESEV (Economic and Social
Studies Foundation of Turkey). "Iraq's future should be decided in Baghdad.
Yet the present regime in Iraq does not allow that. Therefore Turkey should
convene an international conference on Iraq."
Sanberk proposes a four-point plan for a post-Saddam Iraq: guarantees for
the territorial integrity of all the countries of the region, the physical
security of northern Iraq and prevention of refugee influx, removal of
roadblocks to regional economic integration and a regional ban on the
production and supply of weapons of mass destruction.
(When quoting from this PIN, please cite MERIP Press Information Note 103,
"Washington Pushes Turkey Toward 'The Red Line'," by Ertugrul Kurkcu, August
For background on Turkey's position, see MERIP Press Information Note 81,
Turkey's Ecevit: Hopes and Worries Arrive in Washington:
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